LIC | Summer Sizzle?


Summer Sizzle

By Darren Sutton - LIC FarmWise Consultant

As we head into summer it is time to start planning for what strategies will be used to help manage your way through summer.  There has been plenty of commentary on what this El Nino will and won’t deliver.  You cannot make it rain on your farm, so worrying is wasted energy.  What you should do is focus on what you can control inside your farm gate.  Rainfall and final payout is beyond our control.

Tools in the tool box

Some tools that can be used over the next 1-3 months to help protect pasture cover, reduce animal demand and lift pasture production are:

  • Lengthening the round length
  • Summer crops
  • Strategic Nitrogen (N) use
  • Culling early 
  • Milking frequency

Round Length

The purpose of lengthening the round out is to enforce a higher target pre-graze and by default that requires a higher APC to be carried.  This is best done in mid-December to mid-January (soil moisture dependant) from a typical 20-23 day round length out to a 25-30 day round length.  This effectively pushes feed ahead that would otherwise be cut for silage. With the resulting higher pre-graze covers, you may need to do some pre-mowing or topping to help deal with seed head, especially if you have struggled to control this through November.

Summer Crops

Other than Sorghum, all summer crops should be in the ground and growing.  The November rains should mean that these crops have enjoyed a good start and should yield well. Make sure you get weed control right now for each crop.  Get advice on what chemical and timing for optimum weed control.  Most brassicas and chicory crops need their first spray before 50% ground cover, with 25% ground cover usually better. Review your fertiliser plan for each crop.  If a side dress of N is part of the plan get organised for this so you can move at the right time or move with a rain event.

Strategic Nitrogen

Pastures are hungry for N through this time of the year as they churn over old tillers and build new ones.  As moisture allows, applying 30 kgs of N/ha will help lift the leaf to stem ratio in your pastures.  Timing does get important with a the best option of having either Urea or Sustain on hand to apply when you do have 10+ mm of rain to lock the N into the soil reducing volatilisation losses of N.  If you are relying on a contractor to apply, then Sustain will help slow the rate of N loss to the atmosphere.


Culling 

Culling marginal or low-profit cows in early summer will reduce the pasture demand as growth rates start to fall below animal demand.  The only way to keep these types of cows milking would be through the feeding of supplements, which may or may not be profitable (price paid, response rate and final payout driven). By identifying empty or genuine culls based on age, SCC, mastitis or other management issues and removing them early you are trying to divert feed into your capital stock.  This should have the effect on better milk production, days in milk and BCS for the remaining animals.  Timely pregnancy testing will help achieve this.  

Milking frequency

OAD milking for one or all of your herds can be effective in reducing feed demand, and reduce some variable costs associated with milkings such as electricity, detergents and labour costs. Farms that normally run two herds of older and younger age splits suit this as a progressive plan by putting the young herd on OAD in December or January, and then decide if and when the older cows go onto OAD.

Another option that some prefer is three milkings in two days, sometimes called 16 hour milkings.  It is not vital that cows are milked exactly every 16 hours; make it work for you and your staff. A common rotation that works is 5am, 7pm and then 11am the next day.  This can also aid in pushing the round length out as cows only get a new break after each milking.  So a 20 day round becomes a 27 day round automatically.

It is important when moving to OAD or three in two milkings that feed levels are not reduced, especially in the first two weeks of making the change.  It is important to move onto OAD at least 14 days prior to any feed shortage.  Often when cows are producing around 1.4-1.5 kgs MS/c/day is a trigger for a herd to go onto OAD.  Usually they will end up dropping about 0.1 to 0.2 kgs MS/cow/day after about 7 days on OAD. Research has shown that cows switched from TAD to OAD in mid-January gained 0.2-0.4 BCS units by dry-off.  One of the main benefits that cannot be understated is the reduced work load and stress levels on both humans and cows.  The extra time not spent in the shed and walking cows to the shed in the hot afternoon is highly valued by those who have used OAD before.

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